What Is a Georgist?

Robert Clancy

[Reprinted from the Henry George News, August, 1957]

"GEORGIST" is a term which has gained currency since the establishment of the Henry George School. Earlier the term "single taxer" was more frequently used. Are they synonymous? Often a single taxer knew just the single tax and little else, whereas the term Georgist implies a wider knowledge of George's teachings.

I believe the single tax is central to the Georgist philosophy. I know there has been some prejudice against the name single taxer by Georgists, but I have heard no better one devised. Some even maintain that the term has held the movement back, but I never saw advances where it was not used. The same arguments against the proposal will arise no matter what term is used.

A new book entitled The Lunatic Fringe by Gerald Johnson includes Henry George and points out that his idea of creating effective consumer demand is now gospel in General Motors and U.S. Steel. But of course, says Johnson, the single tax idea has to be discarded. I think anyone calling himself a Georgist might be pleased at the' compliment, but would be less than satisfied with the single tax evaluation.

So I will place the single tax at the center, but the circumference of the circle might be harder to draw - just what are the limits?

There is, first of all, an economic analysis pursued to a logical conclusion. And when this analysis is completed, there comes an awakening, a revelation. A Georgist recognizes another by this feeling of revelation. It is akin to religion.

The typical Georgist is a layman rather than an expert. He is the citizen George speaks of who must think about political economy rather than an expert in economics. A Georgist is more concerned with the ethical implications of political acts affecting economic life than with abstract economics or technical economic data. For him economics is a means to a moral end.

What about the Georgist of 1957? Is he any different from the Georgist of, say, 1897? There has been one interesting switch and that is a change of affinity, relationship, contact. Formerly, progressives, socialists, liberals, etc. were not regarded as bad company for Georgists. (George hobnobbed with the socialist Hyndman and shunned the conservative Spencer.) But today the Georgist is more apt to associate himself with conservatives, libertarians, free enterprisers. There is a reason for this: In those days when private monopolies were rampant and governments were doing little, it was easy to make common cause with the voices of protest. Now governments are doing much - overly much as we see it-probably as the very result of those protests-and it is now more in keeping with our philosophy for us to make common cause with those protesting against big government.

Yet basically Georgists must go their lone way. They could only go with socialists a short distance - and so nowadays with the libertarians.

There is no "official" status of being a Georgist, it is a matter of individual determination. I hope it always stays that way. But there are central concerns and common denominators that bind us together more strongly than any organizational protocol. The one unchanging means that characterizes Georgism is the single tax, but other Georgist ideas change and evolve with changing conditions. The central concern is Justice and Georgists test new conditions and ideas with that touchstone.